There is so much to do. We have a to-do-list of considerable length already and are often asked to add more things to it. We receive new tasks when a colleague asks us to do something, when a client calls, when a supplier e‑mails us, when we come to think of something we ”mustn’t forget”.
If we start doing several things at once and do a little on each task, it is easy to get the feel in that we aren’t getting anywhere and not finishing anything (which might in fact be true). And this sensation does not only appear to be a feeling. Harvard Business Review published a visualization created using data from the productivity-measuring software RescueTime a while ago, where two people’s working-methods during a typical workday were compared; one person did one thing at a time and the other skipped back and forth between tasks (which is referred to as multitasking). In this specific example, the multitasking person only completed half as many tasks as the one who focused on one thing at a time. It might not be based on a full-blown scientific study, but the visualization does give food for thought.
Doing one thing at a time is preferable
When ”things are busy” and you are tempted to do several things simultaneously (”since you just have so much on your plate right now”), it is important that you make an effort to only do one thing at a time, and remove anything that distracts you, so that you give yourself the best prerequisites for being able to focus and get things done.
And when it comes down to it, we can do the same even when we are not under pressure. If you continuously determine in one way or another which task that is the right one to do right now, then you will be able to do it wholeheartedly and with concentration, and without thinking of what you are not doing and what tasks that will have to wait a little while longer.
Yes, why? Well, at least to me, it is an enjoyment and derives me great pleasure to do something wholeheartedly and properly; to see something grow and develop through effort and persistence. The quality of what we do will also be less than it could be if we multitask and do many things simultaneously. We become more stressed, feel scattered, we do a little here and there but nothing substantial, and we practically flood our minds with parallel and conflicting impressions, which makes us even more stressed.
So, how then do we downsize our doings and curb our multitasking tendencies? Well, we can begin by doing the following:
- Close or minimize all windows on your screen other than that which you are currently working with.
- Close all programs which you are not using at the moment.
- Maximize the window for the e‑mail which you are currently in the process of composing so that you cannot catch a glimpse of the subject lines for all the other e‑mails in the inbox which are awaiting your attention.
- Turn off all auditory notifications and previews for recently received e‑mails (obviously).
- Put away all other papers and place an empty sheet of paper at the top of every pile you have on your desk, so that you do not risk being distracted when you happen to see a text about something completely different from what you are trying to work on right now.
- Close the door (if you have one) so that you are left undisturbed (to a greater extent).
- Get out of the office and sit somewhere else where there is nothing other than what you are currently working with that could distract you.
- Close yourself in your own ”bubble” and shut the rest of the world out by putting on headphones, and turn on some music you like or ”white noise” which you enjoy listening to.
Prioritize what you have prioritized
It is when we are most stressed out that we need to simplify and downsize what we are doing and what surrounds us the most, since then we will at least not be more stressed by all the sensory stimuli we are taking in (visual, auditory, et c), and we might even decrease our stress-levels and actually perform better in what we do. If we direct all our focus and energy towards completing one task it will get done much faster than if we keep doing a little here and there on other tasks simultaneously.
Focusing on one thing at a time and getting rid of all distractions takes practice and determination for me, and I have to be firm in my resolution to take whatever repercussions focusing on just one task and closing everything else out, might have. But, it is definitely worth the effort.
What is your favorite method?
What is your best trick to only work with and focus on the task which has the highest priority right now? Leave a comment below!